(Photo: U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Carlin Leslie)
Christmas gifts are floating from military aircrafts to Micronesian communities in need this week as part of the longest U.S. humanitarian mission in the history of the Department of Defense.
Operation Christmas Drop began 60 years ago, when U.S. aircrew stationed in Guam flew over Micronesia on a training mission and noticed people waving from below. The crew quickly bundled up supplies, attached a parachute and dropped the package below.
The tradition has been carried out every year since. Packages filled with mostly relief items – clothes, food, medicine, toys – are dropped on dozens of Micronesian islands for one week every year before Christmas.
At a commencement ceremony in Guam, keynote speaker Bruce Best underlined the importance of the event for Micronesian communities.
"It's the most exciting day of their year. This is it. This is Christmas for them," Best said. "These islands do not have airstrips, do not have power, do not have water."
"Can you imagine a whole region on earth that Facebook hasn't touched? That's Micronesia," Best added.
The mission began on Monday, and will run through the weekend.
In C-130 aircraft, crews from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam and an airborne division from a Japanese base have combined to deliver the gifts.
Communities are notified of drops by radio transmissions – that is, if the community even receives a signal.
Supplies and donations are accepted throughout the year by an initiative led by Operation Christmas Drop and the U.S. military. Residents in Guam donate most of the materials.
Many of the islands of Micronesia have no stores, no means for trade and no communication with the outside world. The supplies they receive during the Christmas mission are vital to their survival.
In addition to medical supplies, boxes include hunting and farming tools, such as fishing poles and machetes.
About 60 drops will be made in total throughout the operation.